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MPs call for faster treatment for pancreatic cancer patients

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 3 April 2019

On the 2nd April, MPs debated pancreatic cancer treatment in a Westminster Hall debate, with MPs from a range of parties highlighting the importance of fast treatment.

The debate followed Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Demand Faster Treatment petition, which attracted an amazing 100,600 signatures across the UK. After joining the group handing in the petition to No.10 Downing Street last month, Nic Dakin MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pancreatic Cancer, applied for and led the debate.

Opening the debate, Mr Dakin highlighted the importance of early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but added that, once diagnosed, there is an urgent need for access to faster treatment for people with pancreatic cancer, a point echoed by Independent MP Ivan Lewis.

DUP Health Spokesperson Jim Shannon raised concerns regarding higher risk of pancreatic cancer among overweight individuals, and the need for appropriate treatment to be available for those who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Nic Dakin outlined current treatment statistics, with only one in 10 pancreatic cancer patients receiving potentially curative surgery and only two in 10 receiving chemotherapy. Noting that this means a massive seven in 10 people receive no treatment at all, he added: “That has to change”. Highlighting the Pancreatic Cancer UK petition, Mr Dakin raised the importance of fast-track treatment models and the need for a specific target for pancreatic cancer to be treated within 20 days.

Some of the most powerful moments of the debate were when MPs highlighted the experiences of people with pancreatic cancer. Conservative MP Henry Smith paid tribute to his caseworker, who sadly died of pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the year, and raised the need for the UK to reach survival rates seen in other countries, such as Belgium and the USA, where survival rates are double those in the UK. Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck spoke movingly of her mother-in-law’s death following a late diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which meant it was too late to operate.

Nic Dakin paid tribute to Erika Vincent, who shared her experience of having to wait for treatment as part of the Demand Faster Treatment campaign and sadly passed away shortly before it was handed in to the Government, and his constituent Maggie Watts’ husband Kevin. As he concluded: “their stories help us truly understand the missed opportunities and devastating consequences of the current system.” By contrast, Mr Dakin raised the case of Liz Oakley, who was scheduled for surgery just 12 days after diagnosis and went on to survive the disease, having already twice survived breast cancer, “a testimony to the remarkable progress that has been made in the treatment of other cancers and living proof of what is possible for patients with pancreatic cancer.”

Responding on behalf of the Government, Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price noted the value of hearing the individual cases raised during the debate, which serve as a reminder “that we are not talking about some vague disease that happens to other people; it happens to real human beings and their lives are incredibly affected by our failure, or otherwise, to take action in these spheres.”

Ms Doyle-Price stated that the Government’s ambition is to improve cancer survival rates and highlighted the particular importance of taking action on pancreatic cancer, as the least survivable cancer. The Minister stated that NHS England is working with Pancreatic Cancer UK and others on how the current national measure of early diagnosis can be adjusted to include pancreatic cancer for the first time.

Responding to a specific question from Nic Dakin regarding a 20 day target for pancreatic cancer treatment, the Minister pointed to the forthcoming introduction of a faster diagnostic standard of 28 days for all cancer patients, which, when taken together with the 62-day referral to treatment standard, will mean all patients should expect to start their treatment within 34 days of diagnosis. Ms Doyle-Price did, however, state that these targets should be considered a minimum and that the Government expects trusts always to treat patients according to clinical need and to prioritise those needing urgent treatment. She further noted that the example Nic Dakin gave of Liz Oakley accessing treatment within 12 days “shows that it can be done” and said “we should embrace that level of ambition” and “ensure that that is the experience across our national health service”.  

The Minister further highlighted the importance of increased screening and the role primary care networks and rapid diagnostic centres play in increasing referrals, and raised the importance of research, praising the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (of which Pancreatic Cancer UK is a member) for its work calling for better research for cancers with low survival rates.

Whilst encouraged by many of the points made by the Health Minister, Pancreatic Cancer UK will continue to call for pancreatic cancer to be treated as a cancer emergency, with a 20 day treatment target.

We would like to thank Nic Dakin and all the MPs who spoke in the debate for their support for increased action on pancreatic cancer.